Tuesday Reads

The Dog Days of Summer, Janet Hill

The Dog Days of Summer, Janet Hill

Good Morning!!

It’s the last week of August, and the dog days of summer have supposedly passed; but the Boston area is supposed to hit ninety degrees today and tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to it, because it has been so cool here lately–in the sixites and low seventies in the daytime and the fifties at night. Yesterday it got into the high eighties, and it felt wonderful.

The Boston Globe has a story today about Peter Theo Curtis, the writer who was just released from captivity in Syria. His mother lives in Cambridge. I had never heard of Curtis before; apparently his kidnapping was kept secret. The Globe reports: Militants free US writer with Mass. ties who was held in Syria.

Peter Theo Curtis, a writer and scholar with ties to the Boston area who was held captive for nearly two years by one of the Islamic militant groups operating in Syria, was released Sunday after emissaries from the government of Qatar won his freedom on humanitarian grounds, in a stark contrast to the brutal murder of fellow war correspondent James W. Foley .

Curtis’s 22 months in captivity were kept from the public at his family’s request since he was nabbed near the Syrian border in October 2012 by Al Nusra Front, one of the groups seeking to topple President Bashir Assad of Syria. Al Nusra Front has ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Curtis, 45, who wrote dispatches under the name Theo Padnos and previously chronicled disaffected young Muslims in Yemen in a book titled “Undercover Muslim,” had studied Arabic in Syria.

He was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday evening, a UN spokesman in New York said. After it was determined he was in good medical condition, he was transferred to representatives of the US government, according to the UN.

“We are so relieved that Theo is healthy and safe and that he is finally headed home after his ordeal,” his mother, Nancy Curtis, who lives in Cambridge, said in a statement, “but we are also deeply saddened by the terrible, unjustified killing last week of his fellow journalist, Jim Foley, at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS.”

Foley was from New Hampshire, and the two families have gotten to know each other well, according to Curtis.

Garden Shed - Late Summer, KK Marais

Garden Shed – Late Summer, KK Marais

Syria and Iraq

President Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria, according to BBC News.

Correspondents say the move could mark the first step towards US air strikes inside Syria, where the jihadist group controls vast swathes of territory.

The US is already carrying out strikes against IS in neighbouring Iraq.

On Monday, the Syrian government said it would work with the international community in the fight against IS.

Western governments have so far rejected suggestions that they collaborate with President Bashar al-Assad in an attempt to counter the growing regional threat posed by IS….

On Monday evening, US officials said Mr Obama had approved over the weekend reconnaissance flights by unmanned and manned aircraft, including drones and possibly U2 spy planes.

The US military has been carrying out aerial surveillance of IS – an al-Qaeda breakaway formerly known as Isis – in Iraq for months and launched air strikes on 8 August.

From The Boston Globe, citing “AP sources,” U.S. planes have already begun flying over Syria.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

Two U.S. officials said Monday that Obama had approved the flights, while another U.S. official said early Tuesday that they had begun. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name, and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Jim Michaels of USA Today spoke to Gen. Dempsey on Sunday about what is being done to deal with ISIS in Iraq.

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT — U.S. airstrikes on Islamic militants in Iraq have blunted their momentum, but defeating them will require a broad regional approach that draws support from Iraq’s neighbors and includes political and diplomatic efforts, the top U.S. military officer said.

The long-term strategy for defeating the militants includes having the United States and its allies reach out to Iraq’s neighbors, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday….

Dempsey is working with Central Command to prepare “options to address [the Islamic State] both in Iraq and Syria with a variety of military tools including airstrikes,” said Col. Ed Thomas, Dempsey’s spokesman, in a statement.

The militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has shown itself to be so brutal that Iraq and the U.S. should be able to find “willing partners” to join efforts to defeat the militants, Dempsey said.

But military power won’t be enough, Dempsey said. The strategy must take a comprehensive approach that includes political and diplomatic efforts to address the grievances of millions of Sunnis who have felt disenfranchised by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, he said.

Late Summer Garden, John Gordon

Late Summer Garden, John Gordon

I get the feeling that we’re never going to escape involvement in the endless Middle East conflicts, thanks to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the neocon gang. What a horrible mess! We have our own messes to deal with here, but foreign wars always seem to trump the needs of the American people.

John Cassidy speculates at The New Yorker: What’s Next in Iraq and Syria?

On his first full day back from vacation, President Barack Obama could be forgiven for wishing he were still on Martha’s Vineyard. With confirmation that ISIS fighters have just captured another military base from the government forces of President Assad, and that Qatar has engineered the release of an American freelance journalist who was being held by a non-ISIS jihadist group, Obama has two formidable challenges to deal with.

The immediate task for Obama is deciding whether to launch American bombing raids on ISIS positions inside Syria, while simultaneously preparing his Administration, and the country at large, for the possibility of another video showing an American hostage being butchered. The ISIS militants, having carefully orchestrated the beheading of James Foley following the launch of U.S. strikes inside Iraq, will surely seek to exploit the fate of its remaining American hostages for maximum effect. Any U.S. decision to expand its air campaign is almost certain to be met with the release of more snuff films.

No President—no American—could take such a prospect lightly. At the same time, Obama has to guard against allowing emotion and wishful thinking to take over U.S. policy. That’s what happened after 9/11, and some of the chaos that we now see in the Middle East can be traced back to that historic blunder. What’s needed is calm cost-benefit analysis of the options open to the United States, taking account of its strategic interests, its values, and its capabilities. In short, we need what Danny Kahneman, the Princeton psychologist who pioneered behavioral economics, would refer to as some Type 2 thinking: a disciplined weighing of the likely consequences of our actions. If we give into our Type 1 reaction—horror, outrage, anger—we will be playing into the hands of the jihadists.

One place to start is by acknowledging two errors in thinking that have blighted U.S. policy in the past decade: the conservative delusion that the United States could, more or less single-handedly, use its military power to reinvent the Middle East, and the liberal illusion that we could simply walk away from the mess that Bush, Cheney & Co. created. Without the political willingness and the financial capability to garrison the region in the manner of postwar Germany and Japan, U.S. influence has to be exercised through air power, political proxies, economic inducements, and regional alliances. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that the United States and other Western countries have vital interests at stake, one of which is preventing the emergence of a rogue Islamic state that would provide a rallying point, and a safe haven, for anti-Western jihadists the world over.

Read the whole thing at the link.

A Garden in a Sea of Flowers, Ross Turner

A Garden in a Sea of Flowers, Ross Turner

The Economies of the U.S. and Europe

There has been so much breaking news for the past couple of months that we haven’t talked much about the economies of the U.S. and Europe. But today the European Central Bank is topping the headlines, and last week Fed Chairperson Janet Yellen spoke at Jackson Hole, so I thought I’d post a few economics stories.

Here’s CNN Money’s report on Yellen’s speech, Janet Yellen: Job market not recovered.

That was Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s main message Friday in a much anticipated speech.

“It speaks to the depth of the damage that, five years after the end of the recession, the labor market has yet to fully recover,” she said.

The debate now is whether the job situation in America is healthy enough for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates, which have been at historic lows in recent years in an effort to jump start the economy. Yellen, however, said little new on Friday, and U.S. stock markets stayed flat.

Yellen is chair of the committee that sets interest rates, but she only gets one vote. Other members have differing views. The Fed board and other top economists are spending the weekend in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, debating these key issues.

Though the unemployment rate “has fallen considerably and at a surprisingly rapid pace,” Yellen said problems remain.

Yellen called attention to what Americans in the job market already know–though the employment numbers look better, many people have stopped looking for work, and most of the new jobs are part-time and pay low wages.

A few more U.S. economy stories to check out:

The Wall Street Journal: Fed’s Yellen Remains Mum on Timing of Rate Change.

Bloomberg Businessweek: Yellen Job-Slack View Muddied by Pent-Up Wage Deflation.

Slate: The Fed Is Not As Powerful As We Think.

If you think the economy is struggling here, you should take a look at Europe, where austerity thinking has ruled since the economic crisis hit. Yesterday the French government collapsed. From The New York Times, French Cabinet Is Dissolved, a Victim of Austerity Battles.

PARIS — The collapse of the French government on Monday exposed widening divisions both within France’s leadership, and Europe more broadly, over austerity policies that many now fault for threatening to tip the eurozone back into recession.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that he would dissolve his government after a rancorous battle in his cabinet over whether the belt-tightening measures taken by President François Hollande — at the urging of Germany and European Union officials in Brussels — were impeding France’s recovery.

The dispute broke into the open when Mr. Vall’s outspoken economy minister, Arnaud Montebourg, insisted in an interview over the weekend that austerity had gone too far. “The priority must be exiting the crisis, and the dogmatic reduction of deficits should come after,” he told the newspaper Le Monde.

He also took direct aim at the policies of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. “Germany is caught in a trap of austerity that it is imposing across Europe,” he said.

Even the formerly strong German economy is struggling now, according to Reuters (via NYT), Crisis in Ukraine Drags Economy in Germany.

The eurozone’s flatlining economy took another hit on Monday when data showed German business sentiment sagging for the fourth consecutive month. Chancellor Angela Merkel attributed some of her own country’s decline in the second quarter to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, over which tit-for-tat sanctions threaten trade. The Munich-based Ifo, a research firm, echoed some of those sentiments as it reported its business climate index, based on a monthly survey of some 7,000 companies, fell to a worse-than-expected 106.3 from 108, the lowest level in more than a year. The findings agreed with data earlier in the month on the second-quarter contraction in Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy. Klaus Wohlrabe, an Ifo economist, said his institute expected growth in Germany to be “close to zero” in the third quarter.

A few more headlines on the European economic situation:

The Guardian: An austerity revolt has broken the French government. Will the EU follow?

Bloomberg Businessweek on the European Central Bank, Draghi May Again Find Bazooka Words Beat Action With QE, and an editorial from The Financial Times, Central banks at the crossroads.

Wisteria Flowers in Bloom at Pergola at Portland Japanese Garden Stone Path

Wisteria Flowers in Bloom at Pergola at Portland Japanese Garden Stone Path

Ferguson Stories

Yesterday, on the day of Michael Brown’s funeral, The New York Times published a story that got a great deal of attention because of its insensitive characterization of the dead teenager. Here the paragraph that attracted the angry reaction:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Would the authors have written a similar paragraph about a white homicide victim? From Vox, The New York Times called Michael Brown “no angel.” Here’s how it described serial killers.

The New York Times’s description of Michael Brown as “no angel” has prompted a swift, critical reaction from other media outlets, including Vox, and various people on social media.

Alison Mitchell, national editor for the Times, defended the term in conversations with the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple:

“It comes out of the opening scene,” says Mitchell, who notes that “like many teenagers,” Brown was indeed “no angel.” Okay, but would the New York Times have chosen this term — which is commonly used to describe miscreants and thugs — if the victim had been white? Mitchell: “I think, actually, we have a nuanced story about the young man and if it had been a white young man in the same exact situation, if that’s where our reporting took us, we would have written it in the same way.” When asked whether she thought that “no angel” was a loaded term in this context, Mitchell said she didn’t believe it was. “The story … talks about both problems and promise,” she notes.

The Times’s response has done little to calm the storm. Sean McElwee, research assistant at Demos, dug into the archives to compare the Times’s description of Brown to the newspaper’s previous descriptions of serial killers and terrorists. Of course, comparing articles produced decades apart by different writers and editors isn’t an exact science. But it does lend context to the widespread frustration over how young black men are portrayed in the media.

A series of McElwee’s tweets are posted at the link, and are well worth reading.

One more from Salon by Joan Walsh, Ferguson’s booming white grievance industry: Fox News, Darren Wilson and friends. Check it out at Salon.

How did this post get so long?! I’d better wrap it up. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!

 

 


41 Comments on “Tuesday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    I hope everyone reads that NYT story on Michael Brown. The unconscious racism by the authors is striking–and one of the authors is a young black man. And please don’t miss the Vox post about the Times article! Just incredible. Here’s one of McElwee’s tweets:

    • bostonboomer says:

      NYT Public Editor reacts to Twitter reaction

      • NW Luna says:

        Is anyone an angel? No. I thought the “angel” bit was a nonsensical description. It was also a very clumsy attempt to reinforce the visuals from the first-paragraph cloud scene.
        The story has a choppy, flat writing style — almost as if it’s edited down from a much longer piece, or the writer was uncomfortable with the assignment.

        Lots of teenagers experiment with drugs and alcohol, aren’t the best at school, and play around at whatever music they find popular. Lots of teenagers have emotional conflicts. That doesn’t make them demons.

        I notice that incidents are usually described first by “the police say,” and then second, by family or friends’ descriptions. And wasn’t the cigar store incident shown to be not a theft?

        I expected the story would note the discrepancy between the lack of threat from Michael Brown and the overwhelming and lethal police response — but the article never summed that up.

        I’m surprised (or should I be?) that the NYT published this article. In comparison, the story on Ted Bundy practically makes that serial murderer into an object for our sympathy in its first few paragraphs.

    • janicen says:

      I had seen the headlines and references to “no angel” and it angered me so much that I didn’t read the article. I had no idea that they went so far as to malign Michael Brown’s character because he “dabbled in drugs and alcohol…” and horror of horrors, rap music!!!!! That is a disgraceful excuse for journalism on the part of the NYT.

      • bostonboomer says:

        The story didn’t really malign his character directly, but it was slanted toward finding fault, I think. I’m not sure why they thought that was appropriate on the day of Brown’s funeral. If you can, go read some of the comparisons in the Vox article. Really fascinating.

        • bostonboomer says:

          To me the most interesting part of the NYT story was that Brown had a vision in June. In retrospect, it seems like a premonition.

          It was 1 a.m. and Michael Brown Jr. called his father, his voice trembling. He had seen something overpowering. In the thick gray clouds that lingered from a passing storm this past June, he made out an angel. And he saw Satan chasing the angel and the angel running into the face of God. Brown was a prankster, so his father and stepmother chuckled at first.

          “No no, Dad! No!” the elder Brown remembered his son protesting. “I’m serious.”

          And the black teenager from this suburb of St. Louis, who had just graduated from high school, sent his father and stepmother a picture of the sky from his cellphone. “Now I believe,” he told them.

      • RalphB says:

        I couldn’t agree with you more. The NYT was appalling in every way.

        • bostonboomer says:

          There Are No Angels — What The New York Times Won’t Tell You

          http://www.boston.com/news/nation/2014/08/25/there-are-angels-what-the-new-york-times-won-tell-you/zycFsD9vQFVGqNVb3m4cSM/story.html

          I attended Malden Catholic High School in Malden, MA. I graduated in 2006 and went on to attend Northeastern University on a generous scholarship. During my second year, I got into a bad car accident and dropped out, eventually finishing my degree at Rutgers in New Jersey. If I got shot by a cop, the aforementioned facts might matter to The New York Times, but not nearly as much as some others.

          I’m black, but my closest friends in high school were all white. All but two of them drank. All but one listened to rap music, everything from the vulgar to the high-minded. Most of my friends smoked weed. A few of them sold it. At senior prom, two of my friends offered me ecstasy. Our freshman year, we had a day of mourning to reflect on the death of our hockey team’s goalie, who’d overdosed on prescription meds. But if any of my white high school friends got shot, none of this would matter to The New York Times.

  2. Fannie says:

    I am not an expert on the Middle East, why we are sucked up in this vortex, this war, that I don’t know if we will ever get out. The republicans, have made cuts, foods, child care, education, and yet they are ready to fund the war, even if they don’t have the money, they are ready to go to war. My poor brain can’t take it much more longer, I’m sick and angry because of it all. Dan Rather was asked about the air strikes from a republican and he said, if your son, your daughter, your grandchild is not willing to fight, until then, I don’t want to talk about it.

    We spent trillions to train Iraqis, and why did they drop all their guns and run? Bush had a pull out date, he never mentioned that he destroyed the Iraqi Air Force. He destroyed that and their top military leaders, and put in Al-Maliki. Bush intentionally stripped the high ranking officers from their military, and they are probably the leaders of ISIS now. Bush was busy painting a big picture of replacing US soldiers with mercenaries, so that we didn’t have to play by the rules.
    Most of these mercenaries did what they wanted, and was not held accountable. You might remember the family that sued, because the guy took a shower and was electrocuted because they didn’t have it wired right.

    After WWII, all of our oil companies went into Middle East for oil, we left nothing. Have you watched the movie Syriana, this is perpetuated, the Prince was rich, now the country is a Banana Republic, the white people from foreign land exploited and left nothing for them to build up their country on. Meanwhile, the money was going from the left to the right, for all kinds of systems for construction and military vehicles and supplies.

    We can connect the dots to our Police Systems and selling of assault weapons and military equipment to the following companies.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Dan Rather was asked about the air strikes from a republican and he said, if your son, your daughter, your grandchild is not willing to fight, until then, I don’t want to talk about it.

      Amen to that.

  3. Fannie says:

    I found this, on the American Police Force:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/American_Police_Force

  4. Fannie says:

    We are going to end up hating them too, instead of having a bowl of Cherrios, have a bowl of oil for breakfast.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/26/3475661/crops-sidelined-oil-rail/#

  5. Fannie says:

    Look here at the 50 top oil companies in North Dakota:

    http://www.petroleumnews.com/petroleumnewsbakken/charts/ND50_130602.pdf

  6. RalphB says:

    Rick Perry must have decided he’s in real trouble with the indictments.

    Politico: Steve Schmidt joins Rick Perry’s legal team

    Republican strategist and former John McCain consultant Steve Schmidt has joined the team helping Texas Gov. Rick Perry with the strategy around his indictment, POLITICO has learned.

    Schmidt is the latest addition to a team that Perry has been expanding with legal hands.

    Earlier this week, POLITICO’s Mike Allen reported that Perry had hired former Clinton White House special counsel Mark Fabiani to a team that already included Republican lawyer Ben Ginsberg.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    How Professors in St. Louis Are Teaching the Lessons of Ferguson’s Unrest

    http://chronicle.com/article/How-Professors-in-St-Louis/148479/

  8. bostonboomer says:

    New York Times’ defense of Michael Brown “no angel” piece completely misses the point

    http://www.salon.com/2014/08/25/new_york_times_defense_of_michael_brown_no_angel_piece_completely_misses_the_point/

  9. dakinikat says:

    What Wellesley learned when it stopped giving out so many A’s

    http://www.vox.com/2014/8/26/6067175/grade-inflation-college-wellesley

    • bostonboomer says:

      When I was teaching at BU, it was clearly understood that the grade average in your class had to be a B-. It was ridiculous. Then when there was some publicity about grade inflation at Harvard, they started making sure you didn’t give too many A’s, but the average still had to be B-. What a joke. I got fed up with it. It’s not fair to the student who are really working hard for their A’s and B’s.

    • bostonboomer says:

      The most surprising thing about that article is that economics is the most popular major at Wellesley. That’s amazing. It must be because of the economic crisis.

  10. RalphB says:

    This may be the best commentary on Ferguson I saw from anyone and it’s still hilarious.

  11. bostonboomer says:

    Charlie Crist won the Democratic primary for governor in Florida.

  12. Fannie says:

    I was going to come back and talk about the references to several posting I made. Sorry to say that a little fella in our family, who is 5 years old has acute myeloid leukemia, and in hospital.

    It’s hard when they are just little ones. I would certainly give my life up for him. I’ll keep you updated.